The trial in Munich over John Demjanjuk (born Ivan Demianiuk in Ukraine), who was stripped of US citizenship and charged with complicity in the murder of 29,000 Jews in Nazi extermination camps, made no headlines because the scenario was generally known even before the trial began, when the general public learned that two surviving Sobibor eyewitnesses — Blatt and Bialowitz — failed to identify Demjanjuk as one of the concentration camp's guards.
They took their witness stand and went on to relate their hair-raising stories, but in the end none was sure Demjanjuk was “Ivan the Terrible.” Also, before the trial began, it transpired that the 23 stated eyewitnesses were dead. Demjanjuk's 30-year defense counsel Pat Buchanan ironically said that the impression was that all the eyewitnesses died right after signing their condemning statements, among them a newly discovered witness by the name of Danylchenko after Demjanjuk was first sentenced to death by hanging in Israel as “Ivan the Terrible,” a guard in the Treblinka Nazi extermination camp, and then acquitted in 1993. Demjanjuk returned to the United States and his US citizenship was restored. But the man evidently made the wrong move by suing the Department of Justice for ungrounded charges pressed against him. In 2001, it hit back by launching another round of investigation in the Demjanjuk case.
John Demjanjuk has been adamant in stating that he was never a guard in the Nazi extermination camps of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Trawniki, but that he was taken prisoner of war in 1942 and remained in a camp for Soviet POWs until the end of WWII. At present, such statements are made by his lawyers, because Demjanjuk is bed-ridden and doesn't appear to be aware of what is happening around him. By the way, Sobibor guards faced trial in 1966, with five of the defendants, among them Erich Lachmann, the camp's SS-Scharfuehrer ending up acquitted on the grounds of “putative duress.”
Another interesting fact is that the eyewitness Blatt couldn't remember any German camp guards and kept saying that there were only Ukrainians around and that the death camp wouldn't be able to function adequately without their help. Demjanjuk's lawyer Ulrich Busch commented on this anti-Ukrainian insinuation: “The Germans massacred three million Slavs in their [death] camps. This is also an act of Holocaust. Demjanjuk also fell prey to genocide. One might as well mention the fact that Jews collaborated in concentration camp [with Nazi authorities]. But this topic is taboo, of course. However, this will be said during the trial.”
WHO WAS "IVAN THE TERRIBLE"?
It seems worth reliving the line-up procedures meant to identify John Demjanjuk as “Ivan the Terrible,” the sadistic guard of the Nazi extermination camp Treblinka, back in the early 1980s. US Congressman Jim Trafficant read the investigation records, including statements signed by the former SS-man Otto Horn. He was the only one of the hundreds of congressmen who agreed to hear what the Demjanjuk family had to say. He was horrified by the obvious fabrication of condemning evidence and set about defending John Demjanjuk.
When he tried to enlist his fellow congressman Dana Rohrabacher, he said: “Do you want me to commit political suicide?” He hinted at the Israeli lobby that would be very dissatisfied. This lobby controlled Capitol Hill even then. He was right, considering that Jim Trafficant has long been out of Congress while Dana Rohrabacher keeps getting re-elected.
As it was, two DOJ OSI agents, Garand and Dougherty, showed Horn two batches of photos with people of varying ages. It is on investigation record that these people were “Caucasian,” yet there was a photo of Demjanjuk in every batch. Horn failed to recognize him, saying that he had seen a photo like that in the previous batch (all investigation statements were signed by the then OSI Attorney Norman Moskowitz). However, during the trial in Cleveland to strip Demjanjuk of US citizenship and later in The Hague, Horn claimed that he had instantly identified Demjanjuk as “Ivan the Terrible.”
According to the testimonies given by the surviving Nazi death camp inmates and former prison guards, "Ivan the Terrible" could be anyone in the photos shown to them, except that their appearance and ethnic origin set them far apart from the defendant Demjanjuk. In 1978, before subjecting Demjanjuk to the criminal investigation procedures, Ivan Marchenko was identified as “Ivan the Terrible” by 18 former Treblinka prison camp guards (the man was dead by the time) — probably due to the usage of the name of the Russian tsar known for his atrocities, thus stressing the actual Nazi camp's inhuman guard's Slavic parentage. Another interpretation of “Ivan the Terrible” is a composite image, as asserted by Pat Buchanan, then in charge of Reagan's communications office. He would pay for defending Demjanjuk with his political career.
Polish peasants who had resided in the vicinity of the Treblinka later testified that “Ivan the Terrible” was a tall, hefty, and ruthless degenerate, who operated the camp's gas chambers, who would often visit the local shynok tavern to get drunk.
Other witnesses pointed to a German, who was also tall and hefty and was imprisoned for committing crimes; he was “atoning” for his misdeeds by killing inmates. His name was Christian Wirth and the camp inmates called him Christian the Terrible. Some information sources have it that Wirth was killed during an uprising in the concentration camp, in 1944. Other sources indicate that he was transferred to Yugoslavia where he was killed by partisans, also in 1944.
THE GUARD’S ID: AUTHENTIC OR FAKE?
Like the trial in Israel, the one in Munich focused on Demjanjuk's alleged documented evidence of his having been a Trawniki prison guard, with an ID card and photo, but without the date and place of issuance. During the trial in Israel, experts proved that this ID card was false. Demjanjuk's public defense lawyers, among them Jerome A. Brentar (he specialized in hunting down Nazi war criminals after the end of WWII), detected Karl Streibel, former commandant of the Trawniki camp, who stated: "I would absolutely never sign any document without putting the date and place of issue before my signature […] Anybody who was [trained] in Trawniki had to have a Personalbogen […] a German personnel and identity record, which includes information about date and place of birth, a thumb print, and so forth. […] The Soviets advanced so quickly on the Trawniki camp that those in charge there had no opportunity to destroy the camp's files. The Soviets captured all those records."
Shortly after making this statement Streibel was told by his lawyers that he would be best off by keeping his mouth shut. As for the Demjanjuk case (assuming that he did undergo a course of training as a Trawniki camp guard) all preferred to shelve it. Currently even Deutsche Welle journalists admit that the trial in Germany may well end up being recognized as mistrial. After all, the court's press secretary has been quoted as saying that there will be no verdict in the Demjanjuk case.
THE FEDORENKO CASE AND THE COLD WAR
Should any of the US ranking officials be made answerable for a 30-year old legally-grounded persecution of a Ukrainian American, this scandal would inevitably bring forth the Fedir Fedorenko case. This ethnic Ukrainian was stripped of his naturalized US citizenship at the time the Demjanjuk case was being heard. Fedorenko was also lined up to be identified as "Ivan the Terrible." The denaturalization trial in Florida turned out to be a farce. When the judge asked the prosecution's witness Turovsky to identify the Treblinka camp guard Fedorenko, the man pointed to a middle-aged man in the courtroom. Another witness, Czarny, was disqualified by the judge after his statement. The judge noted for the record that this witness was a theatrical character and could not be trusted as a witness. Despite the fact that perjury is a crime in the United States, none of these fake witnesses was brought to justice. Worse still, they flew to Israel several years later to testify against Demjanjuk during his trial in Tel Aviv.
Fedorenko was stripped of US citizenship, but he challenged his denaturalization in court. Jerome Barter writes that the OSI head, Neal Sher, spoke with Fedorenko, saying he was an old man and that the appellate proceedings would take several years and all his money. He suggested that Fedorenko returns to Ukraine to live the rest of his life with his wife and son. The fact remains that Fedorenko visited Ukraine on several occasions after WWII. A most probable war criminal visiting his homeland, being aware that the Soviet authorities were constantly on a lookout for all those who collaborated with the Nazi occupation authorities!
Even more surprisingly, Fedorenko agreed to the proposal, converted all his dollar savings into Soviet rubles, and flew to Soviet Ukraine where he was immediately arrested, charged with possessing foreign hard currency, later tried as a war criminal, condemned for his crimes against humanity, and shot by a KGB firing squad. I remember a brief information item carried by a local periodical, to the effect that the former Soviet national, Fedir Fedorenko, was court-martialed in Simferopol, May 1985, sentenced to death, and that the sentence had been carried out. Nothing on television or in the central press.
And all this despite the standing Soviet practice of promoting every trial over a Nazi criminal/collaborator on a nationwide scope, adding to court accounts documentaries featuring eyewitnesses and crime scenes. At the time the Soviet media had a field day exposing Anna the machine gunner as being guilty of mass executions on occupied Russian territory. Detecting and apprehending her took 40 years. She was arrested as a top-notch Soviet working woman, loving mother, wife of a WWII invalid. She had a certificate attesting to her participation in the Soviet partisan movement. She visited schools, before May 9, telling the children about the glory of the Soviet victory in the Second World War.
Jerome Brentar insists that DOJ OSI tipped off Moscow about Fedorenko. A number of authors agree that the Cold War was at its peak at the time, and that there existed a weird kind of alliance between DOJ OSI and the KGB. The former had to prove their importance to keep their budget, and the latter wanted to aim a blow at the Ukrainian diaspora in the United States, considering that it had the second most influential lobby after the Israeli one.
The Soviets did keep hunting down Nazi war criminals, yet their propaganda frequently allowed all means to be used to reach the end. I remember former Canadian MP Yuri Shymko as he visited independent Ukraine and asked the newspaper Visti z Ukrainy to publish a rebuttal of its feature dating back to the early 1980s, which described him as a Nazi collaborationist. The man was aggrieved by this falsehood, which reached North America and beyond, considering his status as a member of the Canadian House of Commons (1978-79), the Legislative Assembly of Ontario (1981-87), and Progressive Conservative Party membership. Without a doubt, Visti z Ukrainy's editors were ordered to publish this feature by the KGB whose "specialists" hadn't bothered to check Shymko's year of birth, which is 1940.
In this context, Russia's positive response to the Demjanjuk trial in Munich looks natural and well to be expected. Russian Foreign Ministry's official A. Nesterenko described the trial as a "significant event" and praised the German court for its "unbiased assessment of Demjanjuk's deeds," thus blatantly ignoring the innocent-until-found-guilty principle of justice. Nesterenko went on to say that the German side had received "heaps of documents relating to the Demjanjuk case" from Russia, without specifying any.
Was there his file as a Trawniki camp guard? Hardly likely, otherwise the Munich prosecution would be jumping with joy. Maybe another copy of the notorious testimony? For the past couple of years Moscow has been accusing Ukraine and the Baltic States of "justifying and eulogizing Nazi accomplices." This propaganda campaign has been kept on a high professional level, given the Ukrainian government's absolute inactivity. The latest action in Berlin was organized by the World Congress of Russian Jewry, involving Penza oblast's senator B. Spiegel and Ukrainian MPs B. Feldman and V. Kolesnychenko. They adopted a resolution with accusations addressed to Ukraine.
Uri Avnery, former member of the Knesset, said several weeks ago that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (previously a bouncer) had summoned almost 150 ambassadors and ordered them to defend Israel's honor and dignity and attack anyone who would criticize this country. One of the ambassadors couldn't help laughing and was meted out punishment immediately for acting out of line. The German government should have at least received a note of protest against hosting this kind of provocative gathering. Israel, incidentally, refused to receive the organizers because of what was determined as their ambiguous stand. We all know that in our country career ambitions rarely meet the standards of decency, professionalism, let alone patriotism.
After Demjanjuk was again stripped of US citizenship and prepared for deportation, neither Ukraine nor Poland (where he was alleged to have committed his crimes) wanted to host his trial. Germany did, all of a sudden (probably by doing US DOJ a favor after it transferred Demjanjuk's crime scene from Treblinka to Sobibor). Anyway, this sudden official enthusiasm leaves one wondering, considering the FRG's experience of hunting down Nazi war criminals that leaves much to be desired.
Back in 1953, West Germany pardoned those who had ordered executions of fellow Germans that refused to fight the Allies. In 1965, such criminal cases were closed on the statute-of-limitations grounds. In 1969, the Federal Republic of Germany issued an all-embracing amnesty. Decades later we are witness to a broadly advertised trial over a "Nazi criminal," alleged to be the last one. Pat Buchanan was probably right when he declared that Demjanjuk was "the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany's sins."
Jan Czekajewski, a U.S. resident, member of the Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences is held in esteem by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem. He had this to say on the Demjanjuk case: "What is ironic is that now Germans… are the judges of his alleged crimes. Are they trying to divert attention from their own people’s responsibility?… I cannot but assume that the John Demjanjuk affair has nothing to do with justice, his guilt or even his identity. It is a propaganda tool that helps certain Justice Department officials prove that their office is still needed. They have a 'pressing problem,' while people like Demjanjuk are dying."
The Munich trial will last until May. Demjanjuk, who has cancer and kidney problems, doesn't seem likely to survive the proceedings, and this is probably the outcome the organizers are after, for then they will declare that a Nazi criminal died before hearing a well-deserved verdict.